Couplets have their place in political analysis providing they do two things: describe the forces behind political debate and outline a way of transcending them. In other words, a useful couplet needs to be able to address the past and present, and the future. In The Road to Somewhere, David Goodhart gives us a new couplet: the ‘Anywheres’ and the ‘Somewheres’. It is a schism of values and identities that, he argues, accounts for the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump, the decline of the centre-left and the rise of populism across Europe.
The Anywheres and Somewheres both ask themselves the same question: what do they want from society and how do they get it? But they come up with radically different answers. The Anywheres want to get on in the world and to do this they place ‘a high value on autonomy, mobility and novelty and a much lower value on group identity, tradition and national social contracts (faith, flag and family)’. As Goodhart says, ‘work, and in fact life itself, is about individual self-realisation’. He describes the Anywhere ideology as that of ‘progressive individualism’.
The Somewheres also want a better life, but their forum is local rather than global and their means of obtaining it is more family- and community-focused, rather than workplace-based. The Somewheres feel uncomfortable about ‘an achievement society in which they struggle to achieve’. Goodhart rejects the dismissive view of many social commentators that this strata of society is reactionary, racist or xenophobic (although he recognises that such elements exist on the fringes). Indeed, he describes them as ‘in the main, modern people for whom women’s equality and minority rights, distrust of power, free expression, consumerism and individual choice, are part of the air they breathe’. He describes the Somewhere ideology as socially conservative and communitarian which can be summed up in the phrase ‘decent populism’.
The schism between Anywheres and Somewheres has been most pronounced over immigration. This was the issue which caused Goodhart to question his own Anywhere ideology when, in 2004, as editor of the centre-left current-affairs magazine, Prospect, he wrote an essay, ‘Too Diverse?’, that questioned the benefits of mass immigration. Despite being accused of ‘nice racism’ and ‘liberal Powellism’, Goodhart continued his studies and became convinced that the left had got on the wrong side of the argument on both mass immigration (too enthusiastic) and integration of minorities and national identity (too indifferent).
Anywheres, who constitute no more than 25 per cent of the British population, have come to dominate public policy and thinking
But The Road To Somewhere does far more than merely address the issue of immigration, central though that is to the Anywhere/Somewhere divide. For Goodhart recognises that what gives the divide its political significance today is the fact that ‘until 30 or 40 years ago, the Somewhere worldview remained completely dominant. It was British common sense.’ Whereas today Anywheres, who he places as numerically no more than 25 per cent of the British population, have come to dominate public policy and thinking. Each of these policy headlines of the past decade or so shows how marginalised the Somewhere viewpoint has become: the 2003 decision to open the British labour market to people from eastern Europe (seven years before the EU required it); the 2007 decision to allow Romania and Bulgaria to join the EU (pushed hard by Tony Blair initially against the wishes of the European Commission); support for more economic integration as represented by the TTIP trade negotiations; support for gay marriage; the big increase in foreign aid; the large subsidies for renewable energy and the relentless increase in petrol duty.
And in addition to the policy headlines, Goodhart notes how the prevailing view that has informed public policy for the past few decades has been that of the Anywheres, particularly with regards to education, work and family. Higher education has expanded (good for Anywheres), while vocational education and apprenticeship provision has declined (bad for Somewheres). Educational success has been elevated into the gold standard of social esteem, while those with fewer qualifications seek jobs that could and increasingly are being done by a keen foreign workforce - by exporting factories and importing labour (good for Anywheres but bad for Somewheres).